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Oklahoma Sooners

Sooners Meet the Press Ahead of Opener

NORMAN – Before the Sooners make their season debut on Thursday, head coach Lon Kruger and his 2018-19 squad met with the local media on Wednesday at Lloyd Noble Center.

Kruger provided his outlook on the upcoming campaign and the progress he has seen during preseason practice.

Oklahoma hits the LNC floor on Thursday against Pittsburg State at 7 p.m. CT. The exhibition contest gives many fans their first glimpse at the 2018-19 squad with all tickets for the game priced at only $5. A game preview can be found here.

Here’s more from OU’s local media day:

Head Coach Lon Kruger

Opening statement:
“Great time of year. Exciting to be opening up with our exhibition game tomorrow night. The guys have been doing a really great job; I like their commitment, I like their focus, they’re sharing the ball, making progress every day. Anxious to see what we can transfer from practice to a live game situation tomorrow night but that’s why you have exhibition games to get in front of people and see if we can do exactly that, transfer stuff from practice. The biggest challenge is probably guys taking on different roles, different ones from last year. You know, we have six seniors but they’re going to be doing things a little bit different than they did last year. Jamuni (McNeace), of course, inside we need him to be a consistent guy on the interior every night and Christian James and Rashard Odomes, seniors that have had a lot of minutes in Big 12 play, have to step out and give others some security because of that experience. Kristian Doolittle, Brady Manek, coming off of a lot of experience last year. Then, the new guys, two grad transfer seniors in Aaron Calixte and Myles Reynolds. Both doing a really good job and expecting them to be huge in the mix. Jamaal Beliemy at the point and combo guard spot. Kur (Kuath) is a big transfer and doing a good job, as well. So, a lot of different guys, we’ll play a lot of different guys and have some good depth. Excited about what lies ahead.”

On the graduate transfers getting comfortable with the team:
“It’s been good. They’re fifth-year seniors, not freshmen. They’ve been through college and the college atmosphere and games, they know a little bit more what to expect than coming in as freshmen. They’ve got such great attitudes; they both work hard and both really like being here. So, it’s been an easy transition in that way. Now, when we line up and play in games it remains to be seen, but they’ve done a really good job in practice and we expect that to continue.”

On the attraction of grad transfers Aaron Calixte and Miles Reynolds:
“Both are skilled guys. Both bring good energy and good athleticism, too. Both really good people that are good teammates. So, when you combine all that together it made for a good fit. There’s so many grad transfers anymore, you have to kind of select through and see what fits you best and then recruit. Because it’s not like they go to one place and it’s over. They’re high demand, if you will. We’re very pleased by both.”

On having such a veteran team:
“I don’t recall having six (scholarship) seniors before, so in that respect, it’s certainly a veteran group. Anytime it’s hard to speed experience along. If you’ve been through that many years and games, in the Big 12 especially, that experience is always a great benefit. No surprises with what lies ahead, they know how tough it is and how hard we have to prepare. Hopefully that will be a positive.”

On how helpful it is to have experienced guys like Jamuni McNeace, Christian James and Rashard Odomes:
“It’s very helpful. Again, they know how exciting it is to play in the (NCAA) tournament, so they’re motivated to do what they need to do to help this group get back to the tournament again. Again, those guys are proud seniors and feel great about what’s happening and want to do it again and do it better. That experience and leadership is always really important.”

On maintaining consistency throughout the season:
“You always want to be consistent throughout the year. I think defensively, if you do a good job, it promotes the opportunity to be more consistent. This group will be a good defensive club. They’ve got the length, agility, size, quickness to do that and they’re committed to it. We really have to be focused in practice and hopefully that defensive consistency will allow us to be a little more consistent as a group overall.”

On Kur Kuath:
“Kur will help us. Surprise, perhaps. Didn’t know at point he’d be at when he came in from junior college. When you’re coming in it’s hard to measure instinct and feel for the game watching him. But watching him in practice, he’s got a really good feel for the game. He’s a real good shot-blocker, probably a little farther along offensively than we expected him to be. In the last couple seasons, his club was a little more guard-oriented and pushed the pace, so he didn’t get a lot of touches. But he did a good job there, so he’ll definitely be in the mix from day one. We didn’t know for sure about that, might even be a redshirt possibility but at this point he’s beyond that with how much he can help us right now.”

On Calixte and Reynolds adjusting to the Big 12 conference:
“They’ve both done a real good job, they’re both really good people so it’s easy to fit in with this group when you have the personalities and comfort that they do as young men. I think they’re biggest challenge is clearly understanding what it’s going to be like in the Big 12. Certainly different from a lot of other conferences. In preparation, that’s been a push, to not just be okay but to prepare to play against other really good players every night. Our non-conference schedule is a lot like our conference schedule in terms of difficulty but certainly when you get to conference play it’s going to be extremely difficult and a challenge every night. That’s what we’re trying to help them prepare for every day in practice.”

On Brady Manek’s role:
“Brady had a good freshman year. We want him to do all of that and more, of course. He’s putting the ball on the floor a little more, he’s posting a little bit more, obviously in his game he’s such a good shooter. He can line up and make shots, but he’s worked hard on expanding that to other areas, as well. He’s going to be a good rebounder and we need that to continue.”

On his lineup:
“The guys have done a good job with that. Even though we haven’t played games yet, so it remains to be seen but we’ll play a lot of guys. We’ll try to keep them fresher, we need to play harder and when foul trouble comes in, we’ll have good depth. We’ll have different starting lineups. We’ll start tomorrow night with Aaron at the point, Christian James at the off and Kristian Doolittle at the other wing spot, and Brady Manek and Jamuni McNeace on the inside and probably the most impressive thing to this point is the excitement and enthusiasm that Rashard Odomes comes to practice with every day. Kind of a projected starter, which he may at times, but not tomorrow night. He’s handled that great, totally unselfish, totally about the team, great enthusiasm. A guy does that as a senior, other guys notice that very quickly and appreciate that. Rashard’s been a great tone with regard to all of that from day one.”

Senior Guard Rashard Odomes

On the addition of two older guys when he is one of the veterans of the team:
“Just being excited about the new pieces that we have coming in. Just building that chemistry and getting the new guys in the gym and seeing the growth. We have that maturity so we’re just excited to come out this year and compete.”

On Calixte and Reynolds bringing energy to the team:
“You can tell they were excited to come in. They want to help take us to that next level. We believe in the pieces that we have, and they were excited to come in and work from day one, and they’ve been great, very vocal and really just everything we needed. We appreciate them coming to us.”

Senior Center Jamuni McNeace:

On building team chemistry:
“That’s important every year. I don’t feel like we’ve ever had an issue with team chemistry. I feel like that was just the outside talk. I love all my teammates, they’re my brothers.”

On being a veteran on this team with a lot of experience:
“Experience always helps. It helps with the young guys to show them that we’ve had years when we made it to the tournament and years when we didn’t, so we’ve had plenty experience. We have guys that can go out there and carry the team, but we have to show the guys that everyone has to put in, especially this year, so we can make a run again. A lot of these guys haven’t been to the tournament and this is a good opportunity for them to.”

On his journey as a fifth-year guy and having to adjust to roster changes year-to-year:
“You get used to the adjustments. It happens at every level, seniors leave and freshmen come in. It’s my fifth year playing, so you just get used to rosters changing. Everyone’s been great this year. We got to practice together quite a bit this summer, so everyone’s been getting used to one another and we’ve had plenty of workouts together.”

Graduate Guard Miles Reynolds

On how he chose OU:
“When I came down on my visit – I’ve taken plenty of visits; high school, the first transfer profess – but I was focused on where I felt the most comfortable on and off the court. So I was able to play open gym with the guys. Jamuni McNeace was my host and we had a great time. It was a short scheduled visit because I was still in school and I couldn’t miss any classes because I had to graduate, but I landed at about 2:30 or 3 a.m. on Friday and I wasn’t feeling well, so I didn’t know if I was going to play, but I knew I had to play to get that feel. I just came out with the guys and I just felt extremely comfortable out there. They trusted me with the ball and we had fun out there, which is most important and after that, we were able to just chill. I was able to hang with the guys and go out with the coaching staff and my family – my mom and dad came with me. I had three other visits set up, and I ended up having to call those off because I committed that same night because I just knew this is where I wanted to be.”

On the adjustment for a grad transfer:
“You have to come in with the approach that it is your last year and you don’t have time to waste. I came in with my foot on the gas, on the court just trying to be as aggressive as possible and trying to lead by example. Get the guys in for extra work, extra shooting after our hour. We’re only allowed so many hours in the summer so let’s play some extra pickup, let’s get in the gym late nights and shoot. Let’s hang out as a team and let’s go up to OKC, let’s go to the movies – just to develop as good a relationship with the guys before (season) hits and we’re in the gym practicing for two and a half hours a day. You go home, you’ve got homework you’re tired and you just don’t feel like really doing anything. In the early stages, it was just trying to establish myself on the team as best I can and get the guys as close as possible.”

On his playing style:
“I play extremely hard out there. My teammates know I’m always going to give my 100 percent. I might not always make the right play or make every shot, but my heart’s always going to be in the right place. You’re going to live with whatever comes after that. As long as the guys are playing hard, I’m never going to be mad or talk down on somebody as long as they’re giving everything they have and I think they’ll do the same for me. I’m a really aggressive player – a real emotional player out there and I’ll do everything to win. Winning is the only thing on my mind this year coming up. That’s one thing I really pride myself in is giving everything I have.”

Graduate Guard Aaron Calixte

On his goals for the year:
“Win 20, compete for a Big 12 championships, get to the tournament and make a deep run. I think my individual goal is to take that leap of becoming an all-around point guard. Coach Kruger has really helped me out with that. I want to improve myself from a point guard standpoint – all around, more talking, making my teammates better all the time. All the little things that really matter … I think I really want to put my assist numbers this year. I think last year I scored pretty well but my assist numbers didn’t really show what I wanted them to, so this year, I really want to get them up to just around 10 maybe. I want to improve on my assist numbers and my scoring numbers. I think my game is ok. I still think there’s still room for improvement in every aspect of it and I’m working to get there every day.”

On what attracted him to OU:
“The family culture. Coach Kruger and the guys here really attracted me to come here. A lot of older guys here, so it wasn’t like I was coming into something that was brand new or where there was a rebuilding process, so I felt like with my skillset and the leadership I brought, I fit right in with the guys who were here. So I felt like it was a good fit for me.”

On the transition to Norman and OU:
“It’s been great. The guys have really been bringing me in and showing me how it is here and moving across the country is tough, but the guys have been making it really, really good for me and an easy transition coming from Boston out here.”

Freshman Guard Jamal Bieniemy

On playing with a large group of veteran players:
“It just pushes you to be better just being around these guys. You want to be better and be a great player. You learn a lot from each person – each person has a specific thing you can take from them and apply to yourself, so, that’s what I try to do.”

On his role on the team:
“Running the team when I’m in the game. Just making sure we’re in the correct offense, playing defense and continuing to just be successful and be a leader.”

On his expectations for the season:
“For myself and the group, it’s just to win. For me, I just want to win. It doesn’t matter how we do it or who we do it with, I just want to win.”

Junior Forward Kur Kuath

On playing with veteran guys like Jamuni McNeace, Christian James, Rashard Odomes and others:
“It’s been good. I know that I can get help from the veteran guys and get tips from them and let them help me, so we can all achieve our goal of making it to the NCAA tournament and making a run. It’s been a change for me, having veterans that have been there before so it’s just a learning experience.”

On where he sees himself helping the team:
“I see myself helping the team getting hustle plays, blocking shots, running the floor, getting offensive rebounds, protecting the rim and just bringing energy off the bench. I’ll do whatever it takes for the team to be successful.”

On his goals and expectations for himself and the team:
“Our goal is to make it to the NCAA tournament and make a big run, that’s the number one goal. My goal is to do everything in my power to help my team make the tournament.”

Senior Guard Christian James

On getting his work ethic from former guys in the program:
“Buddy (Hield), Isaiah (Cousins), Ryan Spangler, those guys definitely helped me be able to be the player I am today. Jordan Woodard, as well. Even Trae (Young) last year, he was in the gym a lot. You see that and see those guys in the NBA now, which is what you dream about. You’re right there and have to keep working and keep working on your game.”

On being a leader on this team and bringing the younger guys along:
“Jamaal (Bieniemy) has a big upside. I just tell him every day, don’t take any plays off and be the best player that you can be. Don’t worry about others, worry about the results that you get. The work that you put in every day will help those results come. It’s not an overnight thing, I have to tell myself that still all the time. I used to see Buddy come in and make a bunch of shots, I used to be like ‘how’s he do it?’ but as time goes on, you see yourself get better every day. It’s a progression every day, you have to put the work in and the dedication and you’ll see results.”

On the team chemistry:
“It’s a blessing to see so many talents come through. You can take a little bit from everybody’s game. It’s a blessing to get to compete with those guys and see guys compete at the highest level. It gives us a good look and I feel like when you see guys come in and out every year and go on to do big things, it’s a blessing. I’ve played with so many good guys over the past four years, it helps me grow as a basketball player.”

On the expectations of this team:
“Definitely make the tournament. I genuinely feel like this team can win 20 games and more. We get after it defensively and move the ball, we play for each other, it’s not about who’s going to take the shot, it’s about whoever’s open. We move the ball more than I’ve seen in the past couple years, that’ll be a big key for us. Just playing the right way. Whoever’s hot that night should get the ball and capitalize, but other than that everybody’s going to have to make an impact. Everybody’s going to have to input every night, it’s going to be a team effort. I don’t feel like any one guy should be singlehandedly taking the scoring or defensive load. People are going to get hot and have 20-point games but I feel like everybody has to put in the effort.”

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